Imaging Vista part 2

Getting this started turned out somewhat difficult due to the way the PC recognises USB boot devices. I had both a USB key and a USB external HDD plugged into the master PC for the imaging. The key drive is used to boot Windows PE and the HDD is used to store the image. The problem seemed to be, at first, in getting the key drive recognised – the first one had some sort of corruption or other problem making it unrecognisable for booting. Trying another one, the problem seems to be that with the USB HDD connected as well, it tries to boot that, fails and doesn’t get any further like trying other USB devices or other devices.

I’m not really sure what the problem was, but after a lot of work I got it booting PE off the USB key, and then plugged in the HDD partway through boot. I still don’t know if WinPE supports hotswapping and automatic detection of USB devices. However it evidently does include the drivers for most of them as both devices were able to be accessed in the command prompt.

The first step of making my image is to Sysprep the master PC (step 3 of the guide). This is easier on Vista because Sysprep is now included in a subdirectory of WindowsSystem32. Once this was done, I proceeded to the imaging (step 4). Note that you can use alternative forms of boot media; the Windows PE help included with the WAIK describes how to do this. Now run ImageX with the appropriate switches. I tried two images: one on the external HDD and one to a second partition of the internal HDD. The first took about 30 minutes to create a 5.5 GB file; the second about 20 minutes. The original files on the HDD are 13 GB so this is slightly better than a 2:1 compression ratio.

When the original PC was restarted, there was a period of disk activity for about 10 minutes and then the PC restarted and came up with various screens asking for information – as is usual when starting a Sysprepped image. The PC then started normally. I went to Step 5 of my instructions to apply the image to the other machine, after first following the steps to partition and format the HDD. This PC had Linux installed, but there were no problems in removing the partition information and Grub, and applying the image from the external HDD. On rebooting the PC followed the same process as the master.

The issues which I want to fix for future deployments are

  1. Drivers not installed (even though the master had them). In this case the display adapter was the only device not installed, even though originally I had to provide Vista with network and sound drivers as well. Vista provides a Package Manager to inject drivers to an image
  2. No automatic domain join. Riprep knows how to do this automatically if the answer file specifies it. Sysprep on XP if an answer file is not provided still knows that the PC was previously joined to one and asks the user if they want to join a domain and carries that out.
  3. Product key not asked for. Sysprep does do this on XP. At this stage I would still have to reenter the product key and then activate this PC.

Most of the questions/issues can be addressed using the tools which Microsoft provides. The Package Manager for driver injection, the System Image Manager for creating the answer file, and some technique that I haven’t yet discovered to put the answer file into this image. At this time we want to automate the whole process even more.

The next trial step is to apply my existing image to another completely different PC. This is an old Pentium III with just enough memory and HDD, the first real challenge being whether it will even boot WinPE or be able to read the USB HDD. WDS also looks more promising, but there is still a lot of work to get it there, and the server’s disk is filling up with all the different RIS and Ghost images.